Malcolm Turnbull starts an eight-week campaign with his polling numbers going the wrong way

Malcolm Turnbull speaking to media yesterday in Canberra. Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images

Malcolm Turnbull has a fight on his hands if he is convince Australian voters to re-elect the Coalition on July 2, with published polling showing his popularity continues to wane and the Labor opposition continues its equal footing on a two-party preferred basis.

The federal budget has been somewhat poorly received, with 43% of respondents to an Ipsos poll describing the budget as unfair.

Only 37% of voters described it as fair; 46% said they were “unsatisfied” with the budget over 39% satisfied, while 39% said they would be worse off under the budget measures.

Just under a quarter (24%) said they would be better off, and the same proportion said there would be no difference.

In other poll findings out today:

  • Newspoll finds Labor ahead 51-49 on two-party preferred.
  • On preferred prime minister, Ipsos finds Turnbull leads Labor’s Bill Shorten 51 per cent to 29 per cent. This is down from 54-27 last month.
  • Shorten’s approval rating is up 5 points to 38, while Turnbull’s has slipped 3 points to 48, in the Ipsos poll.

Polls always need to be read with some caution but it’s hard to conclude anything other than that the PM’s numbers have been pointing the wrong way as he embarks on what will be a punishing eight-week campaign.

The findings on the budget may reflect the risk in the unconventional approach taken by Turnbull and treasurer Scott Morrison in building an election-year budget that they have positioned as a “national economic plan” that will position the country to continue its transition to a more diversified economy.

While the budget included some modest tax breaks for average wage earners, there was little else for households in the spending measures and its centrepiece was a gradual reduction in the company tax rate over a decade. Its ten-year cost, at $48.2 billion, has become a political attack line for the opposition who say it amounts to corporate welfare.

In framing the budget Turnbull and Morrison have sought to avoid a “winners and losers” approach, instead claiming the budget set the foundations for a strong economy and a resilient future budget position by encouraging investment and job creation.

Turnbull said yesterday when confirming the July 2 polling date: “At this election Australians will have a very clear choice; to keep the course, maintain the commitment to our national economic plan for growth and jobs, or go back to Labor, with its higher taxing, higher spending, debt and deficit agenda, which will stop our nation’s transition to the new economy dead in its tracks.”

Shorten, meanwhile, is pitching himself as a defender of spending on public services, especially health and education. He is ready to stoke a class war, attacking Turnbull as a friend of the big end of town while arguing he is a man of the people.

Speaking after Turnbull’s announcement, Shorten said that the “election is much more than a choice between parties and personalities”.

“Mr Turnbull’s pretty quick to brush over the fact that he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to confirm that he’s going to spend $50 billion of budget money over the next 10 years, Australian’s taxpayer money, to give big business a tax break,” he said.

Eight weeks is an epically long time to be talking about the budget, so it must be asked what else Turnbull has up his sleeve. The economic news will continue to flow: over that time we have another RBA board meeting and the steady stream of data that will continue to track the progress of the economic transition, not least the employment data as well as the business and consumer confidence surveys which will give further insight into what people made of the budget. Any big surprises in the data will become big talking points for the campaign.

Consumer confidence actually ticked upwards ahead of the budget and continued a broad positive trend over the past months. We get an update on this tomorrow; budgets typically dent consumer confidence, so tomorrow’s read will be important.

For what it’s worth, two months before Tony Abbott led the Coalition to a crushing victory over Kevin Rudd in 2013, the polls were at 50-50. On polling day the Coalition won more than 53% of the two-party preferred vote and 90 out of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

There’s more on the polls at The Australian and the AFR.

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